KEARNS His head was swimming early in the 2008 high school season, but Kearns sophomore quarterback J.R. Finai is now starting to find his groove as a varsity triggerman.
Finai threw two touchdown passes to lead the Cougars to a 21-12 win over rival Hunter on Thursday night. The first came on a 9-yard strike to Fatu Moala, and the second was a game-clinching 40-yard bomb to Dominick Cagle late in the fourth.
Finai's play behind center is critical to Kearns' success. Defenses stack the box against the Cougars to stop runners such as Alamoti Vaenuku and Toa Afatasi. Finai took a big step toward loosening things up around the line of scrimmage for his backs, as it was the first time this season he threw for more than one score in a game.
"It felt like he grew up before our very eyes tonight," said Kearns offensive coordinator Justin Spencer.
Finai predictably struggled early in the season while trying to run a varsity offense for the first time.
"At first things were hard," Finai said. "It's a big responsibility. Not only do you have to know your own position, you have to know everyone else's position. It's a hard thing."
Finai shrugged off what could have been a critical mistake in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Leading 14-12, he had a pass intercepted by Hunter's La'au Tanuvasa with 7:44 left in the game. Fortunately for Finai, the Cougars' defense kept Hunter from gaining a subsequent first down.
On a fourth-and-13, Finai went through his progressions and hit Cagle in stride on a fade pattern to seal the Cougars' win with 4:16 left. "That last pass was a beaut," said Kearns coach Bill Cosper.
The Cougars' play on defense was also a thing of beauty. Kearns held Hunter to 24 yards of offense and one first down in the second half. The Wolverines crossed mid-field just one time after halftime.
Afatasi, a linebacker, deserves a lot of the credit for Kearns' stifling play on defense. The burden was placed on him to slow Hunter's run game, and he responded. DeAndre Galvin also played a solid game on defense.
The win improved Kearns' all-time record against Hunter to 5-14. More importantly, it gave the Cougars a 1-0 record in Region 3 play.
"It's a good win," Cosper said. "It's a rivalry that's hard-nosed. All of our guys grew up tonight."Vaenuku rushed for 129 yards on 17 carries, including an 80-yard score in the first quarter. Moala had five catches for 73 yards, and Finai threw for 121 yards.